ICBC Law

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Post Crash Alcoholism Claim Dismissed at Trial

Last year I highlighted a claim which successfully advanced damages for alcoholism which developed following motor vehicle collision related injuries.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, considering a similar claim which was rejected at trial.

In this week’s case (Dennis v. Fothergill) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2007 rear-end collision.   She alleged that the injuries resulted in chronic pain which led to post collision alcoholism.  Madam Justice Bruce noted “serious reservations about the credibility of the plaintiff’s evidence overall” and dismissed the claim for post collision alcoholism.  In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:

87]         Turning to the superimposed illnesses of depression and alcoholism, I find there is insufficient, cogent evidence to establish a causal connection between these illnesses and the accident. While there is evidence that people who suffer from chronic pain can develop depression and alcohol dependence in response to the pain experience, there is a lack of evidence to establish a causal connection on the facts of this case. The plaintiff did not raise any concerns about her mood or her alcohol dependence with her physicians until December 2009 during an unrelated consultation with Dr. Zentner when asked about alcohol consumption and in December 2010, when she reported symptoms of depression to Dr. Swope. Thus there is a significant time gap.

[88]         Further, the only evidence of when and how the plaintiff began drinking to mask the pain subsequent to the accident is the plaintiff’s testimony, which is significantly inconsistent. The plaintiff’s disclosure to Dr. Zentner in December 2009 that recently her consumption of alcohol had increased to two or three glasses per day is not consistent with her testimony that since the accident she was consuming the same amount or more each night. The plaintiff’s testimony regarding the motivation for drinking is also inconsistent with her description of her past history with alcohol and her pre-accident injuries. The plaintiff testified that growing up with an alcoholic stepfather taught her to fear alcoholism and steeled her against becoming alcohol dependent as an adult. Prior to the accident she rarely drank and often abstained entirely. This positive attitude toward a healthy lifestyle and aversion to alcohol generally is quite inconsistent with a decision to immediately resort to drinking to lessen pain and improve sleep after the accident. Surely it would have taken some considerable time to break down a resolve to abstain from alcohol consumption that had sustained the plaintiff until she was 42 years old. The plaintiff’s description of how the drinking began is also inconsistent with a failure to develop alcohol dependence when faced with a similar history of chronic pain in her neck, shoulders and back prior to the accident. Lastly, the plaintiff’s evidence that she immediately began drinking alcohol for pain reduction after the accident is inconsistent with the fact that her neck pain was actually improving in early October 2007, just a few days after the accident.

[89]         I am also satisfied that there were many other stressors in the plaintiff’s life, apart from the injuries related to the accident, that are far more likely to be connected with her depression and alcoholism. The plaintiff had difficulties in her workplace; she left the Bee Hive because of disputes with clients that threatened the salon’s business. Had she not left voluntarily, Ms. White would have terminated her arrangement with the plaintiff. The plaintiff had significant financial problems. Her condominium leaked and she needed to raise $65,000 to pay for her share of the repairs. There was also an ongoing dispute with Visa over a $6,000 debt that led to a protracted lawsuit. She was behind on her mortgage, strata fees and income tax. It is significant that during the counselling sessions the plaintiff attended in 2011 and 2012, the subject of the accident never came up and pain was mentioned only once in the context of the plaintiff’s decision to go back to yoga for pain management. It was alcohol, relationships and financial problems that arose before the accident or were unrelated to the accident that formed the basis of her discussions with the counsellor. In addition, the plaintiff had a prior bout of depression in 2004 and 2005 that stemmed from financial worries and the troubling Visa lawsuit. She also had a significant family history of depression that created a risk for developing this illness.

[90]         While I find the evidence of Dr. Lu establishes that the plaintiff currently suffers from depression and alcoholism, I am unable to conclude on a balance of probabilities that these illnesses have a causal connection to the accident or to the injuries caused by the accident. Dr. Lu’s opinions about the causal connection to the accident are highly dependent upon the veracity of the plaintiff’s description of her chronic pain and its origins. As described above, the plaintiff has been dishonest with her physicians and has provided inconsistent evidence at trial. I found she was not a credible witness. Her explanations for these inconsistencies were neither candid nor reasonable. Dr. Lu agreed that alcoholics do not tell the truth about their drinking and try to appear functional when they are not. He testified that an alcoholic’s ability to work is the last to go. Thus the failure to call any corroborating witnesses outside of the workplace to describe the plaintiff’s drinking habits before the accident is a significant omission. I accept that the plaintiff may have lost contact with friends since the accident; however, this fact does not explain why she could not approach one of them to testify on her behalf about her pre-accident health and lifestyle. In all of the circumstances, it would be unsafe to accept the plaintiff’s description of her alcohol consumption as accurate either before or after the accident without some corroborating evidence. None of the collateral witnesses had any real knowledge of the plaintiff’s drinking habits because they did not socialize with her outside of the workplace. They could only say that she did not appear to come to work hung over. Ms. Hicks had no direct contact with her daughter until four years after the accident.

[91]         Accordingly, for these reasons I find that the plaintiff has failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that her current alcoholism and depression is causally related to the accident…

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